Ilie Tudor immigrated to America more than a year ago from Romania, seeking a better life for his young family.
However, the American dream pursued by Ilie, his wife Sabona, and their daughter Sofia was profoundly shaken when Sabona was severely injured in a dog attack during a panhandling incident in Eden Prairie on Aug. 16, 2023.
“Life has been hard before the accident, and it became even harder after,” Ilie revealed through his cousin and interpreter, Angel Dumitru.
As Ilie remembers, the attack itself was a moment of sheer terror.
“And in that moment, I also realized that the whole life of a man can be destroyed in one second,” he said.
Months after the incident, Ilie recalled how a dog suddenly jumped from the back of a car exiting onto Flying Cloud Drive from westbound Interstate 494, directly targeting his daughter. Amid the ensuing chaos, two other dogs also got out of the vehicle.
Sabona attempted to protect their daughter by wrapping her arms around her. Sofia, now 3, sustained only minor scratches.
Ilie tried to protect both by picking the dogs up and throwing them. “My wife and I tried our best (for the dog) not to reach the child,” he said.
Sabona, pregnant at the time, suffered significant bites, especially on her arms, leading to a stay at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. (According to the police report, one of the dog’s owners believed that only one dog had bitten Sabona and described the animal as a 10-month-old pit bull-Labrador mix.)
Ilie said that Sabona, who turns 25 in April, is recovering well, but the scarring from her injuries will last a lifetime. “The hospital told me to help her, to not let her do any carrying or any kind of stuff because she’s still recovering from the damage on (her arms),” he said.
The baby, expected later this month, was not injured. Ilie now eagerly awaits this addition to his family, which he calls a “gift from God.”
“I have been to the hospital many times for a checkup with the doctor, and he told us (the baby) looks healthy; it looks normally developed. Now we are waiting to see,” he said.
Navigating aftermath and uncertainty
In the wake of the attack, the Tudors faced not just the physical aftermath of his wife’s injuries but a legal and financial limbo.
The Eden Prairie police concluded their investigation without recommending any charges to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, citing a lack of substantial evidence.
Investigators examined whether Ilie approached the vehicle containing the dogs, a potential action that could be seen as a provocation.
Police stated that to label the dogs as “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous,” there must be evidence that the attack was unprovoked. However, the police report noted insufficient evidence regarding whether Ilie approached the vehicle.
The dogs’ owners, a New Hope couple, claimed that Ilie approached their car within two feet, waving a sign at the dogs. However, witnesses provided conflicting accounts of his position before the attack, with some describing Ilie seated in a chair and others stating he was standing with a sign.
Ilie firmly maintains that he did not approach the vehicle or provoke the dogs.
“The police did nothing even though there was video footage in the area,” he stated.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation gave police investigators the only surveillance footage it had, which captured just the incident’s aftermath with the dogs back in the vehicle.
Panhandling is legal in the city, provided it does not interfere with traffic, the police report states. At the time of the incident, Ilie was holding a sign asking for “help” — not money — which means the act of soliciting does not apply.
After the incident, the Tudor family contacted a Minneapolis law firm to explore their legal options.
Although no criminal charges were filed, they considered the possibility of pursuing civil action. Legal advice suggested that the two dog owners’ financial instability could complicate potential legal claims against them.
Ilie’s primary concern was ensuring the dogs could never harm anyone again. With no charges filed, the dogs were returned to their owners.
“I tried to get justice, to be honest. I really try to get justice for what I’ve been through because I’ve been through a lot, and I tried to make justice,” Ilie said. “But in this country, I’ve been seen as very bad, very bad. I’ve been seen as a refugee or something like that.”
He read comments on news articles in which he was criticized for various reasons. Many of the comments specifically targeted his panhandling.
“Everyone judges me, but no one wants to put themselves in my place even for a second,” he said.
Seeking stability in new challenges
After briefly leaving the Twin Cities for safety reasons, the Tudors have returned and are aiming for a fresh start.
“We were too afraid to stay in the place that we lived because I heard we were (living in Brooklyn Center) not that far from (the owner of the dogs),” he said. “We moved for a better thing, but we eventually came back and moved somewhere else.”
With his second child due in just weeks, 25-year-old Tudor urgently needs a job to manage debts from Sabona’s medical bills. However, his struggle with English is making it hard to find work.
Months after the incident, Ilie still struggles to find hope for a stable future for his family.
“The new baby is going to come, and I have no job,” he said. “I also have debt. When I couldn’t work, I had to ask my family, friends, or whoever for help — for rent, for food, and all that kind of stuff, including all the medications.”
A GoFundMe campaign to support Sabona’s ongoing treatment and the family’s living expenses was launched in September 2023.
Tudor has not panhandled since the accident because he has been staying home to help Sabona recover and care for their daughter, Sofia.
“In that time when he needed help with rent, medical expenses, and things like that, he borrowed money from friends and family to get by when he couldn’t do anything,” said Dumitru, Ilie’s cousin and interpreter. “Whenever he needs help, he turns to them.”
Feeling marginalized and struggling with language and employment barriers, he is ashamed to contact friends who supported him during tough times. They gave him hope, but he feels he can’t give back what he received.
“All I want is to raise my children and be able to pay off the debts I have accumulated with my friends,” Ilie said.
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